I never thought I would visit Sri Lanka. In fact, I don’t think I had given the country any thought. Sri Lanka, with 22 million people, is roughly the size of West Virginia, yet it contains a number of overwhelmingly beautiful historic sites. It would be easy to spend two months on this tiny island and not see all of its beauty. We only had two and half weeks.
After landing in Negombo, a beach town near the airport, we set off to what is known as the “Cultural Triangle,” a cluster of important ruins and temples located in the middle part of the country. Considering the heat and time constraints, we decided to hire a driver for three days. We managed to view quite a few sites including lesser known ones through the aid of our driver, Supun. He was very friendly and helpful. He even arranged accommodation for us at half the cost we were quoted. I would strongly recommend a driver for this part of the trip, especially if you are pressed for time and have luggage. It was a beautiful drive from Negombo through tropical forests and towns. Because of the poor road conditions, it took over four hours to reach our first destination. Over the span of three days, we visited the following sites:
With 75% of the population practicing Buddhism, many of the sites are devoted to Buddha. The town of Aukana, which means “sun-eating,” contains a 39 ft. stone carved – statue of Buddha in the blessing position, or asisa mudra. Entrance fee, 750 LKR
After a brief visit to Aukana, we continued to the UNESCO World Heritgae Site, Sigiriya Rock. Sigiriya, or Lion Rock, was an ancient fortress built by King Kassapa I (477–95). The fortified palace sits on top of the summit approximately 660 ft. high. In the unbearable heat, we climbed to the top in less than an hour while also viewing the impressive cave paintings. The views were exquisite, but I think I found more enjoyment watching the monkeys play with each other. Entrance fee, 3900 LKR ($30)
On day two, we drove 1.5 hours from Sigiriya to Polonnaruwa, the former medieval capital of Sri Lanka. It is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best preserved sites in Sri Lanka. We spent half a day exploring all of the ruins and it was spectacular. Entrance fee, 2950 LKR ($22)
Dambulla Cave Temples
On the third day, we drove to the Dambulla caves to view the five temples built within the rock walls. At first glance, the entrance looked like Disney World for Buddha, but it was actually a beautiful site. With more than 150 Buddha statues, Dambulla has been an important pilgrimage site for the last 22 centuries and is the largest, best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. Entrance fee, 1500 LKR ($12)
Set in a forest and resembling a temple from an Indiana Jones film, the Nalanda Gedige was an ancient Hindu Temple built sometime between the 8th and 10th century and was later used by Buddhists. It is a stunning temple with fewer tourists than the other more popular sites. The temple is close to the town of Matale and is easy to access with a driver. Entrance fee, free
Aluvihare was the last site before heading to the cultural capital of Kandy. It is another beautiful series of cave temples, but with a disturbing feature not found anywhere else in Sri Lanka; gruesome murals of demons torturing sinners. Entrance fee, 300 LKR
- Entrance to Aluvihara
Visiting this part of the country has been a highlight of our trip. As tourism is on the rise, I only hope that Sri Lanka takes care of its historic sites. We could already witness the decrepit state of some monuments with trash strewn about, which is rather unacceptable considering the entrance fees are very high (some of the highest that I have visited throughout the world). Despite this, the ruins are beautiful and they offer an interesting insight into Sri Lanka’s rich past.
To view additional photos, visit my blog, Journeys for the Soul.